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Dr. Wayne Oates (picture from the Wayne Oates Institute)

An Early Gift from the Past

This afternoon when I arrived home a stack of mail awaited me on the kitchen counter. In the stack was a book I’d ordered. Yes, I do still like reading the ink-on-paper variety. I write in them, too – a living conversation with words ancient or new – and this makes me a happy reader.

But finding a book in the mail stack or on the front porch is nothing unusual. The surprise in this book today was the author. And the topic. The real surprise is that I had overlooked this book for so long.

It has been 11 years since I first sat down in silence and began the practice of centering prayer.  It has been 20 years since I first sat down in a classroom with Dr. Wayne Oates to learn the tasks and the art of pastoral care. It has been more than 30 years since he wrote Nurturing Silence in a Noisy Heart. I was still in middle school.

Dr. Oates was my first and most important seminary professor of pastoral care. Sitting in his class was like sitting under a waterfall of wisdom. It just poured out generously each day, and none of us could get enough. He was a founder of the Clinical Pastoral Education movement, a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Louisville, author of scores of books and hundreds of articles. Yet every time I talked to him in his office or sent him a note, he responded like I was the only student that mattered in that moment. This extended into my first call, where occasionally I would send him a thanks for something he taught me. He always wrote back. Even after the mini-strokes began to affect his handwriting.

I had no idea that Wayne Oates had written a book about silence. Yet here it is. I don’t even recall how I stumbled onto it last week. But I’m eager to read it. And write in the margins and converse with this early Christmas gift from the past.

Here is a quote from the opening pages:

“writing this book has often been an experiment in silence amid the mainstream of my noisy world. As I write this page, I am in my most silent place — at my desk at home — at the quietest time — it is five a.m. I am the farthest from noise I will be during the day. I can hear the pulse beat in my left ear. That is louder than the noise of distant traffic driving down the freeway. As a result, starting to write these words presents me with an obstacle course similar to the one facing you as you start nurturing silence in your noisy heart.”